The left-wing of the Republican Party has held the GOP hostage for more than a decade, siding with Democrats on crucial bills and giving Governor Bullock his wishlist of government-growing accomplishments. However, the Solutions Caucus’ voting record has finally caught up with them and their candidates were dealt humiliating blows in Tuesday’s primary, changing the landscape of Montana politics.
By their eager willingness to cross over and vote with Democrats, the so-called “Solutions Caucus” (the group has undergone many names as a part of its public misinformation campaign) handed control of Montana’s legislature over to the minority party and the state’s Democratic governor. Solutions Caucus legislators were able to pull this off by convincing their constituents back home that they were conservatives, something that was laughable and regularly snickered at in the halls of the state capitol. Nonetheless, their campaign material painted themselves as authentic conservatives, something that has worked for them in years past. It did not work this time around.
Montana is not a state that easily unseats incumbents. In fact, it’s downright rare for an incumbent to lose office. But this primary season, Solutions Caucus members went down in electoral flames, one-after-another. Nancy Ballance was perhaps the highest-profile Solutions Caucus member to lose Tuesday evening, and she lost to an authentic conservative firebrand, Theresa Manzella. During the ugly campaign between the two, Ballance sent out a fake score-card labeling Manzella as leftist and Ballance as the conservative. Ballance’s campaign material repeatedly extolled her supposed conservative bona fides. Voters weren’t buying it.
In Eastern Montana, two notorious left-wing Republicans were sent packing, including Eric Moore and Joel Krautter. Unlike Krautter, who was an unabashed RINO even as a freshman legislator, Moore started out fairly conservatively and had several conservative sessions under his belt before aligning himself with the Solutions Caucus and making a hard left (he has this in common with Nancy Ballance). Moore lost his re-election to Jerry Schillinger and Krautter lost his to Brandon Ler, two first-time candidates who steadily and repeatedly pointed out their opponent’s voting record. Both were stunning upsets.
Additionally, Bruce Grubbs lost his election in HD68. Randy Garcia, whose F-score in party loyalty doesn’t match his conservative rhetoric (he famously claimed the Constitution says we can shoot socialists, which is an odd claim for someone who votes like one) also lost. Ultimately, in the end, approximately a half-dozen Solutions Caucus spots were vacated from the state legislature, and conservatives held off at least ten Solutions Caucus challengers.
There are definitely similarities and correlations between those Solutions Caucus members who lost their races. Virtually all those defeated in this week’s primary were supported by PACs associated with Farm Bureau, the Chamber of Commerce, and Ag Growers. Additionally, almost all were supported by health insurance and hospital lobbyists who have a vested interest in taxpayers picking up the tab of their customers. They almost all voted for Montana’s version of Obamacare, Medicaid Expansion Renewal. And finally, they almost all utilized the language of the Montana Extremist Chronicles, referring to conservatives as “extremists” and “radicals.”
After thirteen years of extorting their conservative Republican colleagues, it’s now a legitimate question of whether or not the Solutions Caucus is going to be able to function in the same way as years prior. Not only did they lose significant numbers and fail to pick up new seats, it’s far less likely that freshmen legislators will be so easily persuaded to join their Caucus after seeing Tuesday’s election bloodbath.
What finally did in the Solutions Caucus was their own voting record. Ed Butcher and Lonny Bergstrom worked tirelessly educating local Republican central committees around the state about how Solutions Caucus members manipulate their voting record to appear conservative, counting non-partisan or procedural votes in figuring the percentage of times they vote with Republican leadership. But as Legistats (the vote-scoring system invented by Butcher’s late son) demonstrates, when you only count partisan bills, you can see how the RINOs vote with Democrats on bills when it really counts. Watching Solutions Caucus members try to provide a stammering, incoherent defense for their F-grades on Legistats over the course of the primary has been amusing, to say the least. Legistats played a pivotal role in educating voters, and educated voters seem to be kryptonite to the Solutions Caucus.
Their vote for Medicaid Expansion Renewal in 2019 also came back to bite them, particularly in districts that voted to reject it in the 2018 ballot measure. Joel Krautter and Nancy Ballance, for example, made their Medicaid vote a central part of their campaign. Their constituents were neither pleased nor impressed. Solutions Caucus members seem to have forgotten that their constituents won’t throw them a parade for liberal votes as easily as lobbyists in Helena.
Additionally, Republicans who supported Medicaid Expansion Renewal picked a fight with the state’s pro-life groups. Dr. Annie Bukacek is not to be trifled with, and neither is Matt Regier (the two, along with several others, founded Doctors for a Healthy Montana). Their PAC torched several Solutions Caucus members with negative ads, like Joel Krautter, who thought they could vote for taxpayer-funded abortions without consequence.
Other groups and PACs also converged at once to take on the Solutions Caucus members. Montanans for Limited Government placed targeted Facebook ads against liberal Republicans. Activist groups like Cindi Hamilton’s Free Montana Project game-planned a grassroots effort to displace them and kept a spreadsheet about what candidates needed beaten and which ones needed to be supported. The Glacial Group, another newer organization, launched to help see the overthrow of the Solutions Caucus. Jim White’s Northwest Liberty News and the Montana Daily Gazette both helped disseminate important information and counter-balance leftwing political blogs in the state. Almost all of these organizations were centrally focused on the indistinguishability between Solutions Caucus voting records and those of Democrats.
It is not unreasonable to say that most Republicans who voted with Democrats for Medicaid Expansion Renewal sealed their own fates. Once the voters recognized the truth about how these leftist Republicans voted, it was enough to toss them out of office.
For lack of a better way of phrasing it, many bodies were left in the wake of Tuesday night. Solutions Caucus members were buried, bulldozed, and plowed under. It was a shellacking of epic proportions. Hopefully, those who need to learn the lesson will learn it; alternative media will make it harder and harder for legislators to hide their voting record and manipulate their constituents with a false narrative.
Ultimately, truth will prevail.